Sporting Kansas City declare themselves “greatest team in MLS”… Are they?

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In case you missed it, Sporting Kansas City made a massive splash over the weekend by locking up U.S. internationals Matt Besler and Graham Zusi to long-term contract extensions and made them Designated Players in the process.

Those deals came after European clubs made some serious moves to snap up both SKC stars, who have been with the club since 2009 just before the club was rebranded as Sporting.

[RELATED: What do Zusi, Besler deals mean for MLS?]

Both Besler and Zusi have been shining lights in the clubs rebirth as one of Major League Soccer’s biggest success stories.

Getting Besler and Zusi to remain in MLS is a very big deal, I wrote more on that here, and signifies a marquee moment in the league’s history. Being able to pay players enough money to swat away the lure of fame and fortune in Europe is no mean feat and shows how far the league has come over the past two to three years.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday night after the deals were confirmed, CEO of SKC’s parent company Sporting Club, Robb Heinemann, aired some pretty bold statements about how big Sporting KC are as a club.

Here’s what Heinemann had to say about his side’s greatness and how big they can become.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff on social media around – ‘Oh, you know, this is not a good decision for the guys from a national team perspective’ – and to me, that’s complete BS. This is one of the best clubs in the world from a development perspective. The opportunity and the tools that are available here, including Peter and the way he trains these guys, is world-class. So any reference or thought that it’s not a first-class opportunity for these guys to be here, to me, is just complete crap.

“This club has the desire to be one of the greatest in the world. I think right now, we’re the greatest in MLS. Frankly, I think there’s no question that we’re the greatest in MLS. And we’re going to do everything that we can to try to continue to advance the vision of the club over time.”

The “greatest in MLS”… is that true?

Lets look at the facts. Sporting KC, correct me if I’m wrong, are the reigning MLS Cup champions. On the field they were the best team in MLS last season. This year they are currently trucking along atop the Eastern Conference standings and have represented MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Off the field, the way the organization has rebranded themselves is remarkable. Their purpose-built stadium, Sporting Park, is a joy to behold and sells out constantly at just under 20,000. SKC have the seventh-largest average attendance figures in MLS in 2014 (19,842) and could easily attract more fans.

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With their wonderful stadium, fanbase and recent success on the field, are SKC the best in MLS?

Sporting have developed guys like Besler and Zusi into U.S. national team stars after drafting them from college and they have given plenty of other young Americans, such as Erik Palmer-Brown, the chance to step up. However when you look around MLS, can you definitively say that Sporting are the greatest club? No.

The great thing about what people are calling ‘MLS 3.0’ is that organizations such as the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and in more recent times Toronto FC, have elevated the league to a whole new level. Seattle are averaging 42,771 fans per home game, while Toronto, Vancouver, Portland, the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake are all getting over 20,000. A great club is defined by the number of fans who show up, their influence on the domestic league and further afield, how many great players they develop, how many trophies they win and many other factors.

If you look around the league, so many different teams can claim they are the “greatest” for one reason or another. As the history of MLS begins to take shape, we can look back on the four titles LA have won compared to KC’s two and make certain arguments. How about Seattle and the New York Red Bulls bringing big-name DPs to the league, does that make them “great”? That’s what it is all about, there is no right or wrong answer here. We should take only positives from Heinemann’s comments as he fuels the flames of debate around the MLS community.

Is it fair to call Sporting KC “the greatest” club in MLS? No. They are one of a number of great clubs in MLS. That is something to get excited about as the future for North America’s top-flight has perhaps never been brighter.

MLS Snapshot: Jozy double downs Dynamo, Toronto wins 2-0

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The game in 100 words (or less): Toronto FC had too much firepower for defensively challenged Houston, and the hosts carved up the Dynamo for a 2-0 win north of the border. Giovinco was creative and flashy if not sharp, and Jozy Altidore was the benefactor as the American bagged both goals. After an early spell of Houston possession off the opening whistle, Toronto dominated from start to finish, with the midfield bossing the game.

Three moments that mattered

16′ – Raheem Edwards on the ball out wide, he burst into the box and – seeing Giovinco draw 2 defenders in an offside position – he cut back for Altidore who finished cooly from the spot. Too easy for the opener.

32′– Jozy doubled his lead as he played an absolutely brilliant one-two with Giovinco. The Italian popped it over the top as Altidore slipped through the line, and the USMNT star had the simplest of finishes.

85′ – Houston looked to get back into things by pouring men forward, but to no avail. The closest they came was off a corner as Alex ripped off a shot that sailed over the bar.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Victor Vazquez/Marco Delgado

Goalscorers: Jozy Altidore (16′, 32′)

Juventus bumped by Atalanta at the death

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Juventus is still in firm control of the Serie A title race, but they were dealt a slight setback as Atalanta secured a 2-2 draw with a dramatic 89th minute equalizer in Bergamo.

Dani Alves had given Juventus the lead in the 83rd minute on a header after a brilliant far-post cross by Miralem Pjanic, but Remo Freuler answered late as he grabbed a point.

The goal came on a fortunate bounce as Pjanic and substitute Stephen Lichtensteiner got tangled up on the ball and failed to clear, and the ball squirted to Freuler who suddenly found himself free in front of Gianluigi Buffon. The Juventus keeper came off his line to smother the chance, but he failed to completely collect, and the ball again popped free. Freuler followed up the loose ball, and with a trio of Juventus defenders flying in, the 25-year-old Swiss attacker knocked it in.

The draw was deserving for Atalanta, who had controlled the game for much of the first half, and went ahead just seconds before the break on a goal by Andrea Conti. Atalanta outshot Juventus 7-4 in the first half, 3-1 on shots on target. Juventus took over control in the second half, and got back on level terms just five minutes after the break as Juventus loanee Leonardo Spinazzola put one in his own net.

Alves’ goal put Juventus in front, but that lead only lasted six minutes. Juventus goes nine points clear at the top of the Serie A table with the draw, but Roma has the chance to cut that to six if they can beat Lazio at home on Sunday.

MLS Week 8: Litmus tests across the board

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Week 8 in MLS action could teach fans a lot about clubs with plenty to prove.

With questions still abound regarding teams like NYCFC, New England, Seattle, Portland, and New York Red Bulls, all those teams have a chance to make statements regarding their potential strength this season.

[ MORE: Week 8 MLS Power Rankings ]

In addition, struggling teams such as Los Angeles, Minnesota, and Montreal all have opportunities for much-needed points against arguably weaker opposition.

Let’s take a look at the weekend slate chronologically:

Toronto FC vs. Houston Dynamo
7:30 p.m. ET Friday

Toronto got a pair from Giovinco last time out, and sitting near the bottom of the crowded East mid-tier, they need points fast to avoid finding themselves in a hole behind the top of the table. There’s goals in this one, with Houston defensively challenged and Cubo Torres on fire to start the year.

Montreal Impact vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
3:00 p.m. ET Saturday

An all-Canadian clash actually serves as a vitally important match for both clubs. With each side near the bottom of their conference standings, they both need a result badly to jump-start the campaign. A draw does nobody any good here moving forward.

Orlando City vs. Colorado Rapids
4:00 p.m. ET Saturday

The Lions are one of 2017’s surprises, and Cyle Larin is on an absolute tear. Unfortunately, so far, anyone who shuts down Larin shuts down Orlando City. That said, good luck to Colorado shutting down an early MLS Golden Boot challenger.

Cyle Larin has 6 goals in 6 games this season (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images).

NY Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

New York has seen bumps on the early-season road, but overall remains a strong Supporter’s Shield contender. They face a big test against another strong Eastern Conference side, and a win here would make it three straight, all over good competition. Chicago is reeling after its defeat to Toronto, out-shot 9-1, but has another chance to pick up a road win before heading back home.

Columbus Crew vs. NYCFC
7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Columbus has been poor on the road, but they return home to Mapfre Stadium to take on a strong NYCFC side. This game could potentially teach us a lot about whoever comes out on top, as both look to build separation from the rest of the pack in the East. Both have lost two of three, but both still appear strong up front, and three points in this game could prove to be a marquee win to point to later in the season.

Minnesota United vs. San Jose Earthquakes
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

Minnesota United, owners of one of the worst starts to the season, has shown signs of life. Can they keep it going against another team struggling for points?

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers
8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

This is a marquee matchup, and with FC Dallas unbeaten so far, represents a huge test but also a huge opportunity for Portland to announce itself as a true top contender in the West. They’re top of the table, but have played at least one more game than most teams just below them. Can the Timbers find a way through the strong Dallas D?

Sporting KC vs. Real Salt Lake
8:30 p.m. ET Saturday

A big rivalry game with big table implications, Sporting KC has the unfortunate luck of catching RSL after hiring Mike Petke and not before. This should be a fun one.

Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution
10:00 p.m. ET Saturday

We still don’t know exactly what New England is. For every step forward they’ve taken one back, and for every setback they’ve had they’ve found a way through. This is a fantastic test. There are plenty of excuses for a potential loss with the team going cross-country to face one of the league’s best attacks, but a result could be a true statement.

LA Galaxy vs. Philadelphia Union
10:30 p.m. ET Saturday

With Philadelphia struggling and now traveling a long way, this should be a chance for the Galaxy to turn things around. Should be.

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United
3:00 p.m. ET Sunday

Atlanta is back home for the first time in over a month. They have slipped a bit since the torrid start, but still appear a dangerous club. D.C. will have its work cut out.

Asian FIFA executive pleads guilty to bribery charges

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A guilty plea was entered early Friday by senior Asian Federation (AFC) official Richard Lai to bribery charges, leading FIFA to suspend the 55-year-old indefinitely.

Lai has served as the head of the Guam FA since 2001, and is a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee. He was also formerly a member of the AFC executive committee, and currently sits on the AFC marketing committee. Lai is a United States citizen.

The guilty plea confirms more than $1 million in bribes accepted by Lai, including those from Kuwaiti officials looking to increase their influence over FIFA voters in the confederation. Two unnamed AFC executives, including one Kuwaiti, were also named as co-conspirators.

“One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates,” a Department of Justice document published on Friday said.

That wording seems to indirectly implicate Qatari executive Mohamed bin Hammam, who was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for bribery.

“I would like to thank the American authorities for their continued efforts to stamp out corruption from football,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a statement following the plea. “I am happy to confirm once again, that FIFA will provide whatever assistance is needed by the U.S. and any other authorities around the world.”

Lai has also been provisionally suspended by the AFC.